Gregory Alan Isakov at The Prince Albert

There’s always something magical about a small gig in small room; the kind of intimate show where getting up for a sneaky beer or a bathroom break would be completely crass. When the musician is Gregory Alan Isakov (right in the above picture) and the room is the Prince Albert in Brighton, you can pretty much guarantee that this will be one such captivating occasion.

Isakov may still be relatively unknown in these parts, but the South African-born, Philadelphia-raised resident of Colorado took to the stage with four studio albums under his belt, the latest of which is the recently-released This Empty Northern Hemisphere. In contrast to light-hearted and humorous support act, Dusty Stray, the headliner opened his set deep and heavy – with no introduction – and managed to bring the room to complete silence within a few chords. Blessed with a smokey voice, charming smile and little more than a guitar, a harmonica and a back-up vocalist, it became immediately apparent that the beauty of Isakov’s music lies in its simplicity.

Two songs in, Gregory uttered his first words: a shy apology, ‘Sorry…I’m not a big talker.’ The irony of an award-winning songwriter, whose lyrics are so deeply personal, being unable to express himself without hiding behind a song added even more resonance. His shy tenderness transpired into the delicacy of his whisky-infused lyrics, which, although deeply personal and bearing his innermost thoughts, managed to be highly evocative. Isakov performed with his eyes closed throughout, as though he was reliving the seminal moment of each song’s creation. It was a privilege to witness.

Standout track from This Empty Northern Hemisphere – the beautifully arranged and deeply emotive Evelyn – brought the moment that especially moved everyone in the room. The kind of song that stays with you long after finishing, it was definitely the high-point of a spine-tingling performance.

Isakov ended his longer than usual performance by offering his sincere thanks to the audience for taking the chance on him, before hanging around to chat with fans. As admirers new and old gradually filtered into the Brighton night, they did so in the knowledge that they had shared something special with everyone else in the room. In a few years, they will surely have the satisfaction of smugly being able to inform their friends that they saw Gregory Alan Isakov before he was big.

This may have been the songwriter’s first English tour, but we’re betting, based on this unforgettable evening and his growing number of fans, that it won’t be his last.

Words and pictures by Celeste Macdonald.